There is a fine line of recreating what your fans love and being honest to oneself musically. If you simply recreate the same sound you run the risk of becoming a Mumford band or those men from Canada who shall not be mentioned. If you stray too far into your own imagination, you may be associated with terms such as “sellout” and conversations containing “remember when?”
When listening to Cage The Elephant’s third release it is apparent that they have, once again, taken strides toward something new and uncharted; at least for them.
Was this done on purpose? Was this done with nervous uncertainty? Is this the beginning of the end of Cage The Elephant? Will there be a fourth album?
On the verge of releasing their third album Melophobia, which is an aversion to music, Greg caught up with Lead Singer Matthew Shultz while he was in Boston to discuss the new album, who is singing on “It’s Just Forever,” imminent doom looming overhead and his obsessions. Oh, and the possibility of album number four.
Nanobot Rock Reviews: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with me today. There is a Lot going on leading up to the new record. How are things going for you guys?
Matt Shultz: Yeah, it’s been really cool. I just can’t wait to release this album.
Almost every record becomes kind of a heavy weight on your shoulders. Not in a bad way, it’s just like you just want to get it out. And then whatever is supposed to happen, will. (laughs)
Nanobot: I’m really interested to know, I’ve given it a few runs and its evolved a lot from the days of “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” to a much deeper methodical rock, specifically the track “It’s Just Forever,” take me through the creative process.
MS: Well, when we wrote the tracks, I was looking for a character to the song, at least a voice character, a whole character, kind of like a delivery. And the track just reminds me of a screaming J Hawkins track – the song “I Put A Spell On You” – and in that song, the story is a morbid love story where the one who’s the most controlling and obsessed is the man in the relationship. I thought it would be interesting if, say, there was a love story where both parties in the relationship were grossly obsessed with each other. And so, that’s kind of where the idea came about. And I thought it was funny that well, it’s just forever, you know, what if it was forever forever, like in the afterlife.
And we sent it out to Alison Mosshart [The Dead Weather]. She said she loved the track and she wanted to sing on it. She actually made some changes to the lyrics in the part she sang which actually was a huge contribution, it’s really cool. That’s kind of the story behind the song.
Nanobot: She has some powerful vocals on the song.
MS: Oh man, it’s incredible. She had just got over the flu too and was worried she wasn’t going to deliver when she came in the studio. And I think it was three takes and she was done. It’s incredible.
Nanobot: That is incredible!
So contributing with other artists, is that something that you see becoming a part of Cage The Elephant? Or is this a one-off depending on how the song is written?
MS: I think the song will always dictate whether or not we collaborate with other artists. That’s what we do all the time. It doesn’t necessarily make it on the record, but around our friends, not necessarily our friends are working on our songs, but we’ll work on our songs around our friends and so it’s always a communal collaboration.
Music, in its bare form, is a communal thing to lift up the body. It’s a way to communicate with each other. So we’ve always bounced our ideas off of our friends. There’s a tight network of friends that we’ll share our songs with and always watch their reactions.
So I don’t know if we’ll do it on another record, we’ll see.
Nanobot: That’s a cool way to approach your music – to test it out on your friends first.
MS: That’s how we started. When we first started writing songs, we would do it just to play them at parties for friends. It wasn’t necessarily that we wanted to make records or anything. When we wore out a particular set of songs, we would write some more (laughs). After a while we had enough for a record. Then we recorded a record. That’s kind of how the band started.
Nanobot: Like you said, you didn’t necessarily start out to record a record. I’m sure a lot has changed since the; you guys have come a long way. How did your perception of being a musician then differ from reality of being a musician today?
MS: I definitely believed in the persona of “rock ‘n roll” (laughs) and now for me it’s about being an honest communicator and creating music that strikes a chord with people and finds a place in their hearts; not that it wasn’t then, I didn’t really know what I was doing then. I was just trying to write songs. And it was probably on a more subconscious level than it was consciously trying to write songs for people.
I think in the beginning I had seen a lot of rock and roll movies and I was trying to live those movies out and now, it’s more about being an honest communicator and writing songs that stand
Nanobot: Were you, at any point, trying to impersonate anyone in particular?
MS: I don’t think so, not at first. I just had this overwhelming drive to get attention. I think that I’ve definitely, over the years, picked up things.
In recent days I’ve just become obsessed with the uniqueness of the human fingerprint and trying to find a more untainted, not externally influenced voice.
Nanobot: Speaking of influence, you guys have accomplished a lot in a relatively short period of time, from working with Dave Grohl in 2011 to just finishing up tour dates with Muse, have these experiences helped shape you as musician or a songwriter?
MS: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve learned things from, I feel like, every single band that we’ve toured with; just different things. You might have a surface level enjoyment of someone musically you might be obsessed with before you go on tour; you always learn more about what they do and their craft; especially when you’re touring with people who have been doing it for a long time; when you’re on the road with them every night because you see them every night. I feel like I’ve picked something up from each band and been able to apply it to what we do. It’s not necessarily like taking moves, or musical style, but it’s more or less the sentiment for an approach.
And just seeing how hard people work and how truly passionate they are about what they do and how much detail they pay close attention to, it was very influential on me.
Nanobot: And we’ve seen these influences come out in your music. You’re a big fan of the Pixies, and that had influence on Thank You, Happy Birthday, did that have much influence on Melophobia?
MS: Not really, honestly. With each record that we make we almost run completely in the opposite direction of anything we do. And there on the second record I would say that I was pretty obsessed with the Pixies.
On this record, in the past I would listen to as much diversity as I possibly could and then try to create as much music as I could and it would culminate as everything I love about music. Not necessarily to try and form one particular sound, but a culmination of all the sounds that I love.
But on this record I stopped listening to musical recordings almost completely while we were making the record. And it was more comparable to like trying to tell a childhood friend from memory. And it was a pretty interesting experience.
Nanobot: That’s a pretty bold approach.
MS: Well I didn’t want the standard to be set externally. Sometimes things can appear to be on kind of a roll and I just wanted it to be a record that was honest to where we were then.
Nanobot: The result doesn’t have quite the same energy. In an interview a while back, Lincoln [Parish] said he loved playing “Indy Kidz” because of the energy, but with Melophobia as a whole, you guys turned down the tempo just a little bit.
MS: There are a couple of songs that do. I feel like “Teeth,” live, is the heaviest song we’ve ever written. But as a whole, I think, perhaps on this record it was more about melody. We didn’t want to write songs in a particular vein just for the sake of writing songs in that vein. And so we were just writing what was coming out; what felt natural.
Nanobot: And there’s almost a funky disco vibe with a couple tracks. What brought on that sound if you’re not listening to other audio?
MS: I don’t know. There was a playfulness and a swagger that started to surface that was absent on the last record and Jared, our drummer, comes from a place where he’s very rhythmic and he’s into stuff like that. And so I wanted to make the record that he would have a lot of fun playing. Because the last record was super punk-rock and straight forward and so I wanted to make a record that had that playfulness and swagger.
Nanobot: Do you have a specific song on Melophobia that is your favorite; one that defines you?
MS: There are different favorites for different reasons. One that I was really pleased with was “Telescope.” It’s probably one of the most unique songs on the record; it’s very melodic. It is one of those songs that reveals the naked honesty that I was talking about.
This winter, this past winter, when we were writing the record it was kind of a dark time. It almost seemed that this haze of imminent doom was looming overhead, so this song is kind of about that. I’m pleased with the way it turned out.
Nanobot: Imminent doom – problems with the band?
MS: No, I think it was unspoken adversity in life that had happened all along the way. You know, we build up emotional behaviors and habits over time and it was a belief that I had really invested into and had some trouble shaking. It was also a dreary winter where it wasn’t extremely cold, but it was cold enough and then it kind of just drizzled rain all winter long. I’m sure that had something to do with it as well.
Nanobot: What’s next for you guys? Is album four in the works?
MS: Well, we’re going to release this record on October 8th and then start touring and I have definitely been thinking about record number four, but I haven’t written anything for it yet.
Nanobot: Well, I appreciate you taking the time to sit down with us today and we wish you all the best. We can’t wait to hear what’s next.
MS: Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.